Dividend yields go up when stock prices go down -- but only to a certain point. Economic pressures can become heavy enough to force generous dividend payers to cut those payouts and use that cash for other purposes. For this reason, soaring yields often serve as red flags pointing out unsustainable fiscal strategies.
Income investors can't just settle for the highest dividend yield on the market. Those payouts aren't likely to stick around for the long haul, which is where the real wealth-building happens. The COVID-19 crisis has only just begun, and it's more important than ever to choose dividend stocks that will survive this downturn without resorting to dividend cuts.
Here are three stocks from the tech sector that meet both of these strict criteria. If you're looking for a strong and safe dividend stock right now, you should look here first. It's also a great idea to buy more if and when the next big market drop comes along -- they're all built for long-term survival.
TI wants you to have all the cash it can make
Texas Instruments (TXN 1.15%) offers a 3.33% dividend yield powered by rock-solid cash flows. The semiconductor veteran has been raising its annual payouts in each of the last 16 years and TI's management aims to return all of its cash profits to shareholders through a combination of dividends and buybacks. The COVID-19 crisis has not changed that overarching goal at all.
For example, TI generated $5.6 million of free cash flows over the last four quarters. The company set aside $3.1 billion for dividend payouts and spent another $2.9 billion on stock buybacks, adding up to $6 billion of direct cash returns to shareholders.
Historically speaking, Texas Instruments is not afraid to step up that buyback budget when share prices are running low:
TI's shareholder-friendly fiscal strategy and broad product portfolio have added up to market-crushing returns over the last decade:
The stock is also selling at a discount today, having fallen 20% below January's all-time highs. Investing in TI today will be a rewarding experience for decades to come.
Big Blue looks spring-loaded
International Business Machines (IBM 0.33%) brings a 5.6% dividend yield to the table along with an even stronger commitment to dividends and buybacks than TI's.
Big Blue's dividends payouts have been coming since 1916, not interrupted by irritating economic issues such as world wars, oil crises, pandemics, Spanish Flu, 1918 or radical changes in business technology. Regular dividend boosts have been coming since 1995, making the stock a true Dividend Aristocrat last month.
You might think of IBM as the turnaround story that never ends. The company started a drastic strategy shift 8 years ago, trading in an admired one-stop-shop model for everything within information technology in order to focus on higher-margin services such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing.
That long-term focus adjustment has positioned IBM as a winner in the 2020s. Big Blue is a leading provider of services in areas like blockchain platforms, AI, data analysis, and cloud computing -- explosive target markets for the next decade or two. And it's hard to complain about the business results from a company that generated $11.5 billion of free cash flows over the last year. I expect the big strategy-shift payoff to arrive in a hurry when the coronavirus calamity ends.
If you're not buying IBM today, I think you'll kick yourself for not locking in this juicy dividend yield at today's low buy-in prices. The stock is trading at just 11 times trailing earnings after falling 26% below January's two-year highs.
Big Red's dividend was built to last
Verizon Communications (VZ 0.17%) may not be the most shareholder-friendly company in the world, but I can't deny that the telecom giant is a cash machine with a generous dividend policy. The industry moved from landlines to wireless voice services in a hurry, followed by an equally rapid shift to wireless data plans. Verizon has remained a market leader throughout these game-changing secular trends and I see no reason why that would change in the 2020s.
This stock gives you a 4.5% dividend yield, fully powered by $17.5 billion in annual free cash flows. Verizon is trading at 12 times trailing earnings, 12% below December's 20-year highs. That was actually an all-time record on a dividend-adjusted basis. Here's how the stock has performed since the all-time share price peak in early October 1999, with and without dividends reinvested in more stock along the way:
Long story short, Verizon is a fantastically stable business whose stock is selling at attractive prices today. That adds up to a great income investment for the long term.